More than half of mothers rely on grandparents for childcare when they return to work after maternity leave, while two-thirds of grandparents with grandchildren under 16 provide some childcare. An estimated 1.9m grandparents have either given up their job, reduced their hours or taken time off work to look after their grandchildren.
The proposal for “granny leave” is included in Labour’s manifesto for women, to be launched this week. Grandparents could share the 18 weeks of unpaid leave, or four weeks in any year, that parents can already take for each child and adopted child up to their 18th birthday without losing their job. At present, only a parent or someone with legal parental responsibility qualifies.
Harriet Harman: 'It is not for us to dictate what families do but to back them up' (Getty)
Harriet Harman, Labour’s deputy leader, told The Independent: “Public policy has not caught up with the reality of families’ lives. It is rooted in the past and has to change. It is not for us to dictate what families do but to back them up. Many mothers need to go back to work to maintain the family income while their mums are working longer, often to 67.”
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Ms Harman added: “Many working mothers say they could not cope without their mum or their partner’s mum. But many grandparents give up work when they do not want to and it is difficult to get another job.”
She said that allowing grandparents to share parental leave would help working parents cope during the “annual nightmare” of the school summer holidays.
Ms Harman admitted that some businesses might oppose the move because of the potential disruption, but said a Labour government would consult them and other interested parties before changing the law. She said the plan would be a first step to help grandparents providing childcare and that other measures could also be considered.
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The proposal was welcomed by the Grandparents Plus charity. Sam Smethers, its chief executive, said: “Grandparents are the hidden army of carers in Britain today. We know that one in five working parents – 2m of them - would give up work without grandparents to rely on. But increasingly grandparents are working too. So this policy is also a win for employers as it helps both parents and grandparents stay in work.”
Chuka Umunna, the shadow Business Secretary, said: “Many companies recognise the benefits of flexible working to retain valued employees with caring responsibilities, and some are already recognising the pressures on grandparents. But the system is outdated. We need to look at how to make parental leave more flexible so that it works better for families and businesses.”
Labour’s manifesto for women will reiterate the party’s plan to double paid paternity leave after the birth of a child from two to four weeks and increase pay to £260 a week - £120 more than at present.
Labour would tackle the gender pay gap with transparency rules for big employers and appoint a new commissioner to tackle domestic and sexual abuse.
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